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Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Don’t Stand So Close To Me: A social-distancing playlist

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 1:00 AM

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Now that Howard Hughes has become our national role model, what better way to chase away those social-distancing blues than a carefully curated collection of thematically appropriate songs?

Sure, you could just put Neil Young’s “Oh, Lonesome Me,” Gilbert O’Sullivan’s “Alone Again (Naturally)” or Eric Carmen’s “All by Myself” on infinite repeat, but you can only spend so much time curled up on the floor in a fetal position before you weird out the cats.

So instead, we offer for your consideration a more diverse collection of songs that, if you don’t fixate too much on the lyrics, are really kind of fun. We’ve also included one lesser-known track that we honestly believe will leave you feeling more inspired and optimistic, which, given the current state of the human condition, is no small task. But we’ll get to that later.

“Ghost Town”
by The Specials
“Do you remember the good old days before the ghost town,” sings Terry Hall in one of the more wistful parts of The Specials’ hauntingly tuneful take on rampant unemployment and closed-up clubs in Thatcher-era England. Written and recorded shortly before the seminal ska band called it a day, the song’s dub-influenced arrangement also showcases the deeply resonant vocals of Neville Staple, whose West Indian patois rivals that of Linton Kwesi Johnson. The result is one of the few political protest songs that’s actually fun to sing along to.


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“Can’t Feel My Face”
by The Weeknd
“I can’t feel my face when I’m with you, but I love it,” declares The Weeknd on his runaway hit from 2015. Given the Canadian R&B crooner’s youthful indiscretions, it’s widely assumed that he’s singing about the numbing effects of a controlled substance. Or maybe the song is just about getting high on life. Either way, you’ve got to give him credit for putting an upbeat spin on an uncomfortable predicament.



“Germfree Adolescents”
by X-Ray Spex

While their politely titled “Oh Bondage Up Yours!” single fell on largely deaf ears, X-Ray Spex’s follow-up single went on to become the British agitprop band’s best-known song. “Germfree Adolescents” also turned frontwoman Poly Styrene into a feminist-punk icon, as she deftly skewered an antiseptic society where you could almost imagine people hoarding toilet paper and soap: “Her phobia is infection, she needs one to survive / It’s her built-in protection, without fear she’d give up and die.” Not recommended for the faint-hearted or those who don’t trust anyone under 30.

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“Don’t Stand So Close to Me”
by The Police
It’s amazing that the CDC hasn’t used a single song by The Police for its social-distancing PSAs. “Don’t Stand So Close to Me” is of course the obvious one, but there’s also the multi-platinum “Every Breath You Take” as well as the clearly plaintive “So Lonely,” in which Sting sings the song’s title no less than three dozen times, which is more than enough to fill a 30-second spot.


“Behind the Mask”
by Michael Jackson
Which came first: the silver-sequined glove or the black surgical mask? No one can really say for sure. But we do know that the reclusive King of Pop wore his mask at a rehearsal on the eve of his death, because Jackson’s personal bodyguard said so right before putting it up for auction. In any case, the posthumously released “Behind the Mask” is an unjustly overlooked electro-funk single, with lyrics like “You sit around behind your mask, and you control your world” that are just about as unsettling now as they were back then.
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“U Can’t Touch This”
by MC Hammer
The first MC Hammer single to reach the Top 10, “U Can’t Touch This” has absolutely nothing to do with maintaining personal space and everything to do with pumping beats and billowing parachute pants. Granted, the ’90s rapper let the opening riff from Rick James’ “Super Freak” do the musical heavy lifting, and the accompanying video’s hyperkinetic choreography makes Psy’s gangnam style seem subtle by comparison. And yes, rap rivals 3rd Bass did refer to MC Hammer as “MC Household Tool.” But when it came to unadulterated fun, “U Can’t Touch This” was tough to beat. Or as Hammer put it back in his hip-hop heyday, “Why would I ever stop doin’ this / With others makin’ records that just don’t hit?”

“You Can’t Go Outside”
by Kool Keith
“Now you’re famous, but guess what? You can’t go outside.” In Kool Keith’s song about a self-quarantined rapper who’s taken to canceling gigs for fear of becoming the next Biggie or Tupac, the former Ultramagnetic MC approaches his subject matter with a curious mix of sympathy and derision: “Request to have the chicken and fried rice / Chinese cat at your door on the bike / You doin’ the same thing you did last night.” The song’s chorus, which samples The Dramatics singing “You can’t walk outside... With your girl in the rain” drives the point home.

“Song to Humanity”
by The Lovetones
An ode to hope and redemption, The Lovetones’ 2008 “Song to Humanity” is as close to a sacred hymn as any secular psychedelic-rock band is likely to come. Led by Matthew J. Tow, a singer, songwriter and guitarist whom Rolling Stone has compared to The Kinks’ Ray Davies and The Beatles’ Lennon and McCartney, the Melbourne band employs ringing guitars, sweeping synthesizer and subtle vocal harmonies in service of lyrics that are both timely and heartfelt: “Take care of them all, the old and the small, the sick and the poor, take care of them all.” It’s a gorgeous track and a thoughtful reminder of our need to show kindness and compassion as we get through all this together.

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